UK: League tables go interactive

The University of Oxford is the UK's leading university, according to the latest league tables from The Good University Guide. The University of Cambridge, which topped the national league table last year, performs strongly in second place. For the first time, students can design their own tables online.

Oxford tops the main table, which is calculated using nine measures including student satisfaction, research assessment, student-staff ratios and graduate prospects and completion. In separate subject tables, Cambridge appears in the top 10 for all 43 subjects that it offers - and is in first place in 36 of them. Oxford is in the top ten for all its 32 subjects, with five first places. Imperial College and the London School of Economics tie for third place, and Warwick is in fifth place.

The Guide's online interactivity allows users to break away from the rigidities of existing newspaper and book-based guides.

Users are able to design their own league table by choosing the criteria that are directly important to them and then weighting them to reflect the significance they attach to them, such as weighting student satisfaction over entry standards or employment prospects over good degrees.

This goes a long way to meeting criticisms that rankings are engineered to reproduce an outdated hierarchical view of the UK university system.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters has agreed to collaborate with The Good University Guide on development of the website to provide students with the best possible guidance about possible career options and the routes to them.

The pioneering 2008 guide was launched last year. This year there are significant changes to the supporting subject tables including the addition of a further 10 institutions and an extra measure based on the National Student Survey.

Dr Bernard Kingston of Mayfield University Consultants said: "League tables attempt to define quality by use of appropriate measures which are weighted according to the views of the compilers.

"In book form that decision is imposed by us and cannot be moderated by the reader. Now we have an interactive league table which readers can tailor to the measure or measures important to them. Thus, they can create their own ranking by choosing perhaps to eliminate some measures or by concentrating on any one or more measures of personal significance to them and then weighting them accordingly."

The on-line interactive guide is also more easily accessed by international students, can be constantly updated, and is free to users.

Visitors to the site will also have access to information about which universities have the best sports and recreational facilities, which offer the most generous bursaries and scholarships, an extensive list of relevant internet resources, and - for cities with two or more universities - crime statistics.

The league table and other information are available at www.thegooduniversityguide.org.uk.

Users will be able to search for the best-performing universities across 59 academic subjects, and will also find details of graduate employment rates and starting salaries for specific academic subjects.

Nova Jayne Heath, Director of Constable & Robinson Ltd, said: "Finding the right university is a major decision. With 16-24 year olds spending more time online than watching TV, we feel we are helping them by making the information accessible in a way that is familiar to them."

Data for the rankings have been derived from official sources and have been meticulously checked with the universities themselves.